Archives for category: Honor Roll

Three years ago, I wrote about a heroic educator in upstate New York who wrote bluntly about the current obsession with testing, ranking all students based on their test scores. Her name is Teresa Thayer Snyder. I called her a hero educator. She was at that time the superintendent of Voorheesville, New York, a small and high-performing district. She spoke out against the rigging of test scores on the new Common Core tests, which caused scores across the state to collapse. Because of her courage and integrity, I named her to the blog’s honor roll.

Now Superintendent Snyder is leading another district, Green Island Union Free District, and she has spoken out again about the stupidity of annual standardized testing, which tells us nothing that we don’t already know.

She writes:

NY State Tests and The Three Bears

I am certain every reader remembers the story of Goldilocks breaking and entering into the cottage of The Three Bears. After wreaking havoc on their household, seeking a chair, a bed, and a bowl of porridge that was “just right” she dozed off in baby bear’s bed until she was awakened by the three bears’ return, at which time she ran off into the forest and was never seen by the bears again.

Such it is with New York State testing for children in grades 3 through 8. In the desperate attempt to find a test that is “just right” the State (and other States) has experimented for the past several years. Sadly, in the pursuit of “just right,” thousands of children have been subjected to assessments that were anything but. The results are in again, and while the powers that be are claiming gains in proficiency, analysts are suggesting that the gains are the result of lowering the bar that signifies achievement. Whatever—the point that should not be missed is that the raising or the lowering of the bar is entirely unrelated to the experience of children in the tested grades.

The test results again show that children in wealthy schools are more proficient than children in poverty; that children in regular education are more proficient than children who are differently abled; that children whose first language is the same as the test writers are more proficient than children for whom that language is a new language. These outcomes are so stable over time that one wonders why we need an expensive and extensive testing program to reveal these results. Indeed, standardized tests have been telling this story since their inception over a century ago.

What standardized tests have also been telling us for all these years is that there is very little correlation, if any, between outcomes on these tests and success in life. Recently, I was with a group of young women, all 30-something young adults. In the course of the conversation, standardized testing came up (I swear it was not I who brought it up!!). A litany of anxiety poured forth. Person after person articulated how much they hated those days of testing they had experienced in their k-12 education. One after another made statements such as “they made me feel stupid;” “I was always so disappointed as I worked so hard.” I finally said, in a firm tone, cease and desist. Sitting with me was a doctor of pharmacy, a speech pathologist, a director of human resources, a lawyer, a social worker—all women who had achieved remarkably well despite the profiling that they felt they were subjected to while taking those assessments years before. Imagine, if these successful adults felt inadequate because of those tests, imagine how youngsters who truly struggled on such assessments felt. My own daughter, a PhD who is professionally published, barely passed the New York State writing assessment that used to be on the testing menu when she was in fifth grade. She did poorly because she doesn’t like to elaborate much when she writes. Curiously, in her current field, such succinctness is valued!

A test of any sort is only a minimalist measure of what it purports to measure. I recently had a conversation with a data analyst who had beautiful color coded item analyses of the sample of recently released NYS test questions. One of the trends that was alarming to him was that the scores on “higher level questions” reduced with each grade in school. He suggested that this indicated that children were not grappling with higher level items on the test and this was a deficiency. I asked him how he could be so certain that, as children matured, they were not using higher level thinking skills. Maybe they were—evaluating their likelihood of success or even the quality of the test items, and rejecting them. Maybe, as children valued the assessment less, they were actively resisting engagement—resistance requires higher level thinking.

The significant “opt out” movement in New York—and other States– is growing as parents also value these tests less and less. What is astonishing to me is that opting out of tests is a recent phenomenon—one which deserves the attention of the powers that be. Remember, students have been subjected to tests for a good many years, and over that time, there has never been the level of resistance that we now see. Instead of denigrating the resistance or seeking to “punish” the schools where participation is down because of parental decisions, maybe it is time to listen to that resistance. Why, in a state where Regents testing has been a gold standard for years, why is there such disaffiliation with this testing mechanism in grades 3-8? Perhaps it is because the resistance recognizes the lack of value in the assessment regimen. Perhaps the outcomes matter little in the life of a child and are not worth the testing experience that their parents deem unnecessary.

I am 66 years old. I have taken so many standardized tests over the course of my life that I cannot begin to count them. I can tell you this—what I remember about school is not the results I obtained on any test I ever took—it was each and every teacher. I remember books they introduced me to, and ways of thinking that challenged me. I remember struggling with penmanship (I still do) and I remember being urged to participate in daunting speech contests, and I remember being prodded to write and to re-write—But what I most remember is the teachers and I cannot repeat that enough.

So, as we approach the beginning of the next school year, and while the State in which we work continues to search for the “just right” assessments, I urge my colleagues in the field to never lose sight of the things that matter in the classroom. It is not the test that makes a difference in a child’s life—it is you. May all of the children who cross your classroom thresholds find themselves in the company of someone who believes in them, regardless of the chair, the bed, or the bowl of porridge. A year of promise awaits!

I am reposting this notice because the original post attributed the fabulous film “Education, Inc.” to the wrong film-makers.

Brian and Cindy Malone spent years creating the film “Education, Inc.” which documents the corporate assault on public education.

It just won an Emmy award. from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (Heartland Region).

The Malones donated the Emmy to Douglas County Schools as a symbol of a great community coming together.

This is wonderful news!

The Malones join the honor roll of this blog for helping to tell the story of the creeping privatization of public education, and doing so with a dramatic film.

Please go to their website and arrange a showing in your community.

Rhode Island teacher Shelley McDonald resigned from her position before the school board of North Kingston fired her. She is a woman of conscience. I name her to the blog’s honor roll for standing up for principle.

Facing termination from the North Kingstown School Department because of her refusal to administer testing last fall, high school math teacher Shelley McDonald has decided to resign. Her decision, accepted by the school committee at its June 28 meeting, comes after a long fight with school administration on testing which she felt, if she consented to give the tests to students, had the potential to violate her privacy.

“I chose to resign because I just no longer had the energy, the support, nor the finances to fight what clearly looked to me like an unwinnable situation,” she said on Wednesday.

This past February, McDonald went before the school committee because of her refusal to administer PARCC tests to students in March and December 2015. She has been a long-time opponent of the school’s installation of wifi in classrooms, citing health concerns with electro-magnetic radiation created by the technology at numerous committee meetings over the past two years.

She had also claimed that the terms and conditions of the test’s publisher, Pearson, Inc., include the potential release of personal information, such as social security numbers, to unknown third-party groups, something to which she did not want to agree.

A memorandum of agreement was drawn up between the school department and the North Kingstown teacher’s union which stated that only very specific items of personal information, such as the teacher’s name and district email address, would be accessible by Pearson. The MOA added that teachers would be held ‘harmless’ in administering the test unless in cases of ‘gross negligence.’

Superintendent Philip Auger declined to comment specifically on McDonald’s resignation. He has been adamant throughout the ordeal that McDonald’s termination was decided because of her insubordination in administering the tests when no other teacher held such opposition, not her repeated claims that wifi was potentially harmful to students.

Barbara Madeloni, the firebrand insurgent who won the presidency of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, was re-elected last week on a platform of fighting high-stakes testing and charters.


Madeloni first rose to prominence in 2012 when she fought the EdTPA, the Pearson test required for certification. She refused to administer it to her students and lost her job (she later regained it, then took an unpaid leave, then lost it again, but may be rehire again, or maybe not.)


At that time, she said about teacher certification:


““This is something complex and we don’t like seeing it taken out of human hands,” said Barbara Madeloni, who runs the university’s high school teacher training program. “We are putting a stick in the gears.”


Last week, the MTA filed an amicus brief as part of a lawsuit to stop the legislature from lifting the cap on charter expansion.


Charter advocates filed a lawsuit last year claiming that the state’s cap on charter schools violates the civil rights of students who could then not have an opportunity to attend a charter. The state attorney general, Maura Healey, filed a motion to dismiss and the Massachusetts Teachers Association just filed an amicus brief in support of the AG’s motion to dismiss. The MTA brief confronts the lie behind the charter advocates’ ‘civil rights’ argument.


For her fight for public schools, students, teachers, education, and democracy, I am glad to place Barbara Madeloni on the honor roll.

Grace Davis is a sophomore at Ponderosa High School in Parker, Colorado. She was upset that so many teachers left every year, and she decided to hold a student protest to call attention to the issue. (I posted about this here on May 8). She got clearance from the school. She read about her First Amendment rights. She thought everything was set.


Colorado Public Radio told the story here.  


Two members of the school board asked to meet with her. One is the president of the board. Grace brought a recording device with her and taped the meeting. From her research, she knew it was legal to tape a conversation without the consent of all parties under Colorado law.


The meeting lasted an hour and a half. (Grace missed a class while she was harangued.) The board members warned her that her family would be liable  for any damages. They threatened, they cajoled. Grace, on her own, with no parent or advisor, stood her ground.


The protest was held without incident.


Grace went to the next school board meeting and explained what happened. She called for the resignation of the two board members for bullying her.


The board was split; the board president hired an outside lawyer to conduct an investigation. CPR noted the ties between the school board president and the lawyer, suggesting that this will not be an independent investigation.


How owe can it be that sophomore Grace Davis is wiser than the district school board? She understands the importance of teachers. She exercised critical thinking, came to her views after personal experience and careful research. She personified the courage and independence we hope to teach all students.


I am pleased to add Grace Davis to the blog’s honor roll.

I love San Diego. I wrote a chapter about its experience with top-down reform in the late ’90s and early 2000’s in my book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.” Broad and Gates poured money into a plan to remake the district. Eventually, the voters tired of constant disruption and voted out the reformers.


Since then, San Diego has made a remarkable recovery and now has a knowledgeable superintendent who is an experienced educator. Better yet, the school board and the teachers work together and have a shared vision.


I met Superintendent Cindy Marten when she was a principal. I could see her love for the children and her respect for teachers. For her courage in doing what is best for children, I add her to the honor roll of the blog.


The district made this announcement:


SAN DIEGO – San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten May 4 announced a significant reduction in the amount of high-stakes standardized testing at local schools. Instead, the former teacher and principal said the district will focus on providing classroom educators with more meaningful measures of student progress in real time. The dramatic changes are expected to improve student well-being and academic outcomes.


“The changes we are announcing today will improve the well-being and performance of our students by allowing teachers to teach and students to learn in an environment that values and supports them as individuals,” Marten said. She added the new testing system will help the district continue to provide students with project-based, collaborative learning in classroom settings customized to the needs of a diverse student population.


Effective the 2016-17 school year, the specific changes announced today will:


• Stop the district-wide collection of interim assessment data and DRA test results, eliminating the need for teachers to waste valuable classroom time entering and uploading data for the central office.


• Replace irrelevant district-wide data collection requirements with real time reporting on student progress for teachers to use when and where they need it to support student learning.


• Empower teachers to analyze student learning results, and revise lessons to meet individual student needs.


• Support local schools as they develop common formative assessment plans, identifying relevant measures that give insight and critical information about how students are developing in literacy and mathematics.


“We want to give classroom teachers and neighborhood schools the tools they need to measure the progress of our children in ways that reflect the unique needs of every student. That is how we will keep our commitment to maintain quality schools in every neighborhood,” said Marten.


San Diego Unified has a history of national leadership on the issue of student testing under Superintendent Marten, having previously reduced the number of interim assessment tests by 33 percent (from 3 to 2) and increased the age at which testing starts — Second Grade instead of First.


“Our experience has shown that student outcomes improve when district officials release their control over assessments and encourage schools to select assessments aligned with a framework for learning, relying on principals, teachers and area superintendents to work in partnership, as they receive the necessary support from the central office,” said Marten.


A major factor behind the changes announced today was the recent study showing the overuse of standardized testing is harmful to area students, according to some 90% of San Diego’s teachers. The study was conducted by the San Diego Education Association.


“We are pleased San Diego Unified has decided to put the interests of our students first and moved to reduce high-stakes standardized testing, which we know from our research is contrary to students’ well-being,” said Lindsay Burningham, president of the San Diego Education Association. “A true reflection of student achievement and improvement is always done through multiple measures and can never focus on just one test score.”



Contact: Linda Zintz – 619-725-5578 or

Sam Gorman, a junior at Burbank High School, started an opt out movement that was joined by 40% of the students in his class. He demonstrates the power of a single individual to make a difference. I happily add him to this blog’s honor roll for his intelligence and leadership.

“Students began taking state standardized exams in Burbank earlier this month, but about 40% of Burbank High’s junior class chose to opt out of the process, according to Burbank Unified Supt. Matt Hill.

“There were 269 out of 656 juniors at Burbank High who opted out of taking the exam after getting a parent to sign off on the request.

“For Burbank High student Sam Gorman, the choice to opt out signifies his stance against a test that is based on “big data and redundant standards instead of the acquisition of long-lasting knowledge,” he said in an email.

“He learned he could skip the exam last summer in Switzerland, where he attended a student leader summit hosted by Education First, an international company that runs study-abroad programs.

“Working with progressive education experts like Sir Ken Robinson and Nikhil Goyal helped open my eyes to the exciting possibilities of an educational system that treats students more like the individuals they are and less like the raw data they’ve become,” he said.

“The state exam tests students on California State Standards, which until recently were called Common Core standards.

“The computerized exam made its debut in California two years ago. It replaced the STAR exam, which students took by filling in bubbles on paper tests that asked multiple-choice questions.

“The new computerized exam tests students in math and language arts and is used by educators to gauge high school juniors’ preparedness for college. Students in third through eighth grades are also tested to give educators insight into their grasp of state standards.

“Sam wrote about Common Core testing on his website,, and then in mid-March, he tweeted a link that explained how students could opt out.

“Juniors needed to make the request in a letter, provide a parent’s signature and date, and submit it to their school principal.

“It was around mid-March, still a few weeks before testing began on April 7, when junior Daniel Park was asked by a classmate if he would opt out.

“People everywhere were just asking, ‘Are you opting out?'” he recalled by phone this week.

“Daniel is a college-bound student who is enrolled in five AP classes — U.S. history, English, calculous, psychology and physics.”

Daniel opted out, along with 40% of his class.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he had nothing to do with the “removal” or “reassignment” of Blaine Elementary School’s award-winning principal Troy LaRaviere.


Apparently the Mayor forgot that he controls the Chicago public school system. He appoints every member of the Board of Education. He chooses the Superintendent of schools.


The parents of Blaine are outraged. They can’t believe their principal was taken away mid-semester.


Troy LaRaviere wrote several posts that appeared on this blog. For his courage, I placed him on the honor roll of this blog. Read any his posts and you will see why the powers that be had to silence him. See here.  Or here.


He is fearless and outspoken. In Rahm Emanuel’s town, those qualities get you punished. Removed. Reassigned to nowhere.

Pasi Sahlberg, author of “Finnish Lessons,” teacher, scholar, and defender of childhood, won the LEGO prize for his work in fighting the global effort to standardize children and crush the joy of learning. The award comes with a gift of $100,000.

Please watch Pasi’s presentation after winning the award.

He certainly belongs on the honor roll of this blog for his tireless efforts to present a vision of what real education is and how to make it happen.

“Former schoolteacher and current scholar and author, Finnish Pasi Sahlberg, wins the LEGO Prize 2016 for his work to improve the quality of children’s education worldwide. Hanne Rasmussen, CEO of the LEGO Foundation, presented the prize at the annual LEGO Idea Conference. The prize is accompanied by a cash award of USD 100,000 to support further development of quality in children’s learning.

The LEGO Foundation has taken on the ambition of re-defining what we mean with play and its role in learning, and of re-imagining how we best stimulate children to learn. This ambition is shared by Pasi Sahlberg, who believes that testing alone is the wrong way to quality education.

“Today, curiosity, creativity and ultimately genuine learning are at risk anywhere high-stakes testing, Big Data and punitive accountability are the dominant drivers of what teachers and students do in schools. This is a direct consequence of the current global education reform movement. Schools around the world have become places of standardized routines that aim at predetermined attainment targets in the name of improving competitiveness. Our children are therefore subjects of frequent assessments and tests that measure and divide them based solely on how they perform on these external expectations,” says Pasi Sahlberg.

Society needs creative and lifelong learners

These days, the LEGO Idea Conference hosts 300 academics, practitioners and representatives from educational organizations, who will discuss what quality learning is and how it can be put into action. According to Hanne Rasmussen, CEO of the LEGO Foundation, Pasi Sahlberg is a forerunner when it comes to improving the quality of children’s education worldwide.

The LEGO Foundation said in its announcement:

“Pasi Sahlberg wins the LEGO Prize 2016 for his enormously dedicated work to improve the quality of children’s education globally. Pasi Sahlberg is a forerunner in the efforts to ensure quality in children’s learning, which he believes must build on the natural curiosity and collaboration between children. The LEGO Foundation shares this view. A child’s inherent ability to play is paramount in the early years and a catalyst for learning competencies that prepare the child for formal education, creativity and learning. Quality learning supports a respect for children’s playfulness and does not only focus on curriculum that mirrors later educational experiences.,” says Hanne Rasmussen.

“The LEGO Foundation believes that learning through play is essential in children’s learning and development. The LEGO Foundation has taken on the task of re-defining what we mean with play and its role in learning, and of re-imagining how we can stimulate children to learn. Skills like problem solving, creativity, empathy, communication and teamwork are all rooted in play, which involves a constant process of “try, fail and try again” – helping children to develop and fine-tune the creative and critical thinking skills.

“The mission of the LEGO Foundation is to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow. The aim is to build a future where learning through play empowers children to become creative, engaged lifelong learners.

“The LEGO Foundation focuses on children aged 0-12 with a special emphasis on early childhood. This is the period when children develop most rapidly and when play is instrumental in building skills essential for the rest of their lives. As documented by several studies, investing in early childhood provides exceptional returns for the individual child and for the society, as it will lead to less crime, higher high school graduation rates and higher incomes.”

New York City’s second-highest ranking official is the Public Advocate. Our Public Advocate is Letitia James, known to her constituents as Tish James. She is a lawyer and a fighter for equity.


For consistently supporting parents and public schools, I add her to the honor roll of this blog.


She released the following advisory to parents and the public:





Next week, children across our state will be asked to take the New York State English Language Arts exam and the following week they will be asked to take the New York State Math exam.


There has been a lot of confusion about whether these tests are required. I want to remind you that, as parents, you have the right to opt your child out of this exam with no consequences to you, your child, or your child’s school.


If you do choose to make this decision, you must write a letter to your child’s principal. More information on how to opt out is available here.


The decision whether to opt out or not is a personal one for each family. As your Public Advocate, I want to ensure that parents know their rights. And that we continue working together to build a school system that offers a holistic education, including arts and physical education, and equips our children for success.


If you have questions or concerns, I urge you to contact my office at 212-669-7250 or





Letitia James
New York City Public Advocate


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